Trade in Mass Media Services: Another Case of Contending Public and Private Spaces *

Article excerpt

The impetus for "progressive liberalisation (1)" in the trade in services has prompted a serious look at the impact of this policy on various services sectors. Among the sectors that women and feminists have decided to study is the audio-visual (2) services sector. This paper aims to unpack the implications of various trade agreements under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on women and, more importantly, on cultural transformation that promotes gender equality.

Market Access Versus Protection of Cultural Diversity

The most important trade agreement under the WTO that will have an impact on the audio-visual services sector is the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). However, there are also other WTO agreements that are relevant to this sector. These include the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) and the GATT Article IV. Other trade agreements that could have an impact are the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Duties, the Agreement on the Implementation of Article VI of GATT 1994 (Anti-Dumping), the Agreement on Safeguards, and the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures. Although the latter set of trade agreements apply generally to the trade in goods, there are audio-visual service products whose classification as a good or a service is controversial.

Despite the wide range of applicable agreements, perhaps the main debate defining the liberalisation of trade in audio-visual services is the debate over increasing market access of foreign audio-visual service providers and the extent of protection of cultural diversity. Market access is an essential objective of the liberalisation of audio-visual services that allows the unhindered entry into the domestic market of foreign service providers and products. In other words, laws, rules and regulations applied to the audio-visual services sector should not differentiate between foreign and domestic providers. Zampetti (2003) provides examples of the various laws, rules and regulations that could be affected by the two types of liberalisation commitments.

"The main types of cultural policies and instruments currently in place in different jurisdictions potentially fall within the meaning of market access or national treatment as defined in GATS. In the area of market access restrictions, there are widespread measures that control access to film markets, including screen quotas for cinemas (as in Mexico, South Korea and Spain); prohibitions of dubbing of foreign films (Mexico); dubbing licenses (e.g. in Spain, film distributors can only receive a dubbing license for foreign films when they contract to distribute a certain number. of national films) and quantitative restrictions, as was the case in India, which used to restrict the import of film titles to 100 per year; as well as foreign investment and ownership restrictions, including divestiture policies, for example, in the broadcasting industry and news media in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In the area of national treatment many countries use domestic content requirements, especially measures regulating radio and television broadcasting content. For example, European Communities, Australia, Canada, and France use domestic broadcast content to control access to their television broadcast and film markets; as well as discriminatory regulatory/licensing restrictions, especially measures that control access to radio or television broadcasting through regulatory or licensing restrictions (Canada). Furthermore, many national and regional audiovisual policies rely on discriminatory subsidies, involving the provision of grants, loans and tax preferences for the production or co-production of cultural works, most notably audio-visual products. For example, Eurimages, an initiative by the Council of Europe, provides subsidies for the co-production of European audiovisual works. The Media II program of the European Communities, while excluding the support of production, focuses on training for professionals, the development of attractive projects and the transnational distribution of audiovisual programs and films. …